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Is constructive eviction an effective way to break a lease?

On Behalf of | Oct 29, 2021 | Landlord/Tenant Matters

In landlord-tenant law, there are rights and obligations that each party entering into a lease agreement owe to the other as governed by state and common laws and outlined in the lease agreement. The landlord has a duty to maintain the property and common areas, keep up with repairs and provide peaceful enjoyment of the premises. The renter owes a duty to pay the rent on time, not damage the property and not conduct illegal activity on the premises.

When issues arise out of a failure of either side to uphold these obligations, if there is good communication it can make disputes much easier to resolve between the two sides. If the landlord does not uphold one or more of these obligations and is nonresponsive to complaints from the renter, however, the renter may be inclined to break the lease. In this case, it is important for the renter to know when such an action is legal.

What is constructive eviction?

When the renter makes the decision to vacate the property, refuses to pay the rent and then later pursues legal action against the landlord, it is called constructive eviction. Although the landlord has not legally evicted the tenant, their breach of the implied covenant of quiet enjoyment is preventing either side from continuing the terms of the lease.

The breach may be due to the landlord’s failure to maintain the property, provide safety in the common areas, or make significant repairs that result in leaks, structural damage to the unit or malfunctioning utilities.

The three elements to constructive eviction are:

  • the landlord substantially interferes with the tenant’s use and enjoyment of the property and does not resolve the problem
  • the tenant gives notice of the problem, and the landlord does not respond
  • the tenant vacates the premises within a prescribed time period

Delaware landlord-tenant laws

 According to Delaware state laws, the tenant has the right to break the lease on the grounds of constructive eviction if:

  • the unit is uninhabitable according to health and safety codes, and the landlord has not affected repairs within the allowable time period after receiving notice from the tenant
  • the landlord has violated the tenant’s privacy by entering the premises without 48 hours’ prior notice, turned off the utilities, or removed doors or windows
  • the landlord has changed the locks

Before taking action, it is important for residents of Georgetown and surrounding areas to understand not only their options but also their rights when they are trying to resolve a challenging situation with a difficult landlord.